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Rage Against the Machine (RATM) played a free concert in protest of the two-party system. The band had been considering playing a protest concert there since April of that year.In the months leading up to the convention, cable channel MTV began planning a large, free concert to take place in downtown Los Angeles as a part of its "Choose or Lose" campaign aimed at getting youth out to vote. MTV decided that popular rock group RATM would be the ideal marquee band. However, RATM's aggressive political message combined with the title of its most recent album, The Battle of Los Angeles, caused serious concerns from LA city leaders. MTV's applications for staging the concert were denied by the city and the channel eventually gave up its attempts to plan one. After MTV's attempts failed, a number of protest groups agreed to give their one hour time allotments on the stage in the Protest Zone. RATM was offered prime time slots coinciding with the marquee speaker on the opening night of the convention, then-President Bill Clinton.
Although they were at first required by the City of Los Angeles to perform in a small venue at a considerable distance, early in August a United States district court judge ruled that the City's request was too restrictive and the City subsequently allowed the protests and concert to be held at a site across from the DNC. The police response was to increase security measures, which included a 12' fence and patrolling by a minimum of 2,000 officers wearing riot gear, as well as additional horses, motorcycles, squad cars and police helicopters. A police spokesperson said they were "gravely concerned because of security reasons".
During the concert, RATM singer Zach de la Rocha said to the crowd, "brothers and sisters, our democracy has been hijacked," and later also shouted "we have a right to oppose these motherfuckers!" After the performance, a small group of attendees congregated at the point in the protest area closest to the DNC, facing the police officers. Reports of what activity they engaged in vary, the most extreme being reports of throwing glass, concrete and water bottles filled with "noxious agents," spraying ammonia on police and slingshotting rocks and steel balls. However, milder reports also arose, one only mentioning "tossing rocks." The police soon after declared the gathering an unlawful assembly, shut off the electrical supply, interrupting performing band Ozomatli, and informed the protestors that they had 15 minutes to disperse on pain of arrest. Some of the protesters remained, however, including two young men who climbed the fence and waved black flags, who were subsequently shot in the face with pepper spray. Police then forcibly dispersed the crowd, using tear gas, pepper spray and rubber bullets. At least six people were arrested in the incident.
The police faced severe and broad criticism for their reaction, with an American Civil Liberties Union spokesperson saying that it was "nothing less than an orchestrated police riot." Several primary witnesses reported unnecessarily violent actions and police abuses, including firing on reporters, lawyers and people obeying police commands. Protesters were trapped between police fronts, and some were beaten by police while trying to obey commands. At one point, four young men were repeatedly beaten by mounted police while trapped against a wall. Police responded that their response was "outstanding" and "clearly disciplined."
Footage of the protest and ensuing violence, along with an MTV News report on the incident, was included in the Live at the Grand Olympic Auditorium DVD.